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Review: 2019 GMC Terrain Denali

If you’ve ever wondered about your family’s lineage, there are genealogy services that will pretty much lay out where your ancestors came from. Oh, you didn’t know you had ties to Lithuania?

I find it entertaining to trace the lineage of certain cars, trucks, and SUVs. We think they spring from nothing but the mind of some engineer, when in fact they often trace their roots back to now-extinct vehicles.

That’s the backstory on the GMC Terrain, which has not only one out-of-production SUV in its family tree, but two. They don’t necessarily share the same skeletons, but they were direct replacements.

The Terrain was born with the 2010 model, a replacement for the Pontiac Torrent when GM shuttered the Pontiac plant. But the Torrent was itself a replacement for the hideous (sorry, editorial comment) Pontiac Aztec, that strange beast made popular (well, familiar) on the TV show Survivor.

If you wanna use old King James Bible terminology, the Aztec begat the Torrent which begat the Terrain. Amen.

The Basics

The 2019 Terrain, a five-passenger SUV, is available in four trim levels, ranging from the base model SL up to the full-featured Denali. (I drove the Denali for a week in November, 2018.)

The Denali sports a 2.0-liter turbo-charged engine, a nice step up from the lower trims’ 1.5-liter that just doesn’t provide much in the way of oomph.

In all of its trim levels the Terrain comes standard with front-wheel-drive, but Colorado drivers will happily choose the all-wheel-drive option that’s offered.

Competitors in this class include the Chevy Equinox and Mazda CX-5.

One thing I noticed right away was the attractive exterior of the Terrain, with stylish lines and contours. Some may not care for the aggressive grill, however, a somewhat-garish mash of metal that seems hungry.

The Interior

Two things I noticed right away: The Terrain has no use for a traditional gear shifter, not even the trendy gear knob. Instead you shift by means of buttons and switches you push or pull, an array lined up at the bottom of the dashboard’s central column.

As with most innovations like this, it doesn’t necessarily add anything (or detract, for that matter) as much as it just takes some adjustment.

The second thing I noticed was my butt vibrating, the kind of feeling you get when you cross over those highway rumble strips. It’s called the Safety Alert Seat, GMC’s way of warning you that there’s something to be aware of in your vicinity, like another car or the side of your garage door. I felt the rumble every time I backed out of my garage.

The seats are comfortable, there’s plenty of legroom, and visibility is good. I liked the layout of the dash (yes, including those oddball shift controls) with the exception of the headlight controls. We’re all used to having them conveniently on a stem off the steering wheel, but GMC chose to place them down around your left knee, hidden by the steering wheel.

Storage up front is excellent. More and more car makers are hip to our love of cubby holes and assorted places to stash our stuff. The Terrain provides multiple opportunities, whether it’s a dedicated cell phone holder in the center console (a nice touch) or the handy cubby just above the glove compartment for the front passenger.

Storage in the back is another story. The 63 cubic feet of cargo space comes up short compared to competitors, although the Terrain pulls off a neat trick by allowing not only the rears seats but also the front passenger seat to fold flat. That’s cool.

The Drive

GMC made a decision to bump up fuel economy in the lower trim levels with their smaller 1.5-liter engine. For many that translates to a wimpy drive, which is why I would steer you toward the upper-tier 2.0-liter you’ll find in the Denali.

The Terrain won’t blow anyone away with the smoothest, quietest ride (especially if you choose the noisy diesel). I noticed more bumps than usual, and an occasional shudder. One odd design flaw in the roof’s storage rack produces a wind-whine at highway speeds.

It does handle relatively well on twists and turns, with nice stability and good steering.


The Tech

GMC pays a lot of attention to safety features, one of the big draws for their line. Other than the fun seat rumble you’ll find a nice array of collision warnings, lane alerts, and parking assist.

Plus, they’ve made Apple CarPlay and Android Auto standard, which delights everyone.

I appreciated the generous placement of USB ports, two of which are charging only and another four that are data ports.

The sound system was so-so, and GMC has joined the trend of eliminating the CD player — if you remember what that was.

I liked the 8-inch touchscreen, and all its controls were intuitive and easy.

The Bottom Line

The Terrain is battling in a tough, competitive segment, but with its stylish looks, healthy complement of standard features, and dedication to safety features it holds its own.

My recommendation is to seek out the higher trim with its stronger engine and better creature comforts.

The Details

2019 GMC Terrain AWD Denali
2.0-liter, 4-cylinder
9-speed automatic transmission
Front-wheel-drive standard, AWD available
Mileage: 21/26/23 combined
MSRP: $39,500
As tested: $43,650

Reviewed by Dom Testa
Vehicle provided by manufacturer


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